Editor’s note: The June issue of The Washingtonian—which has already been printed and is currently being mailed to subscribers and delivered to newsstands—includes a profile of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has lived in relative obscurity in Washington for the last three and a half years. Titled “The Invisible Man” and written by French journalist Apolline de Malherbe, the profile was meant to introduce Strauss-Kahn’s neighbors here in Washington to a man considered one of Europe’s leading politicians—a man, as we say in the article, who might well be standing next to you in line at Whole Foods. We had no way to know that Strauss-Kahn would be front-page news by the time the issue arrived in the homes of subscribers and on newsstands; this weekend news broke that Strauss-Kahn had been arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York. What follows is an updated version of the article:
When Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken into police custody on Saturday afternoon for an alleged sexual assault, it marked the likely end of what had been a remarkable political comeback. “DSK,” as he’s known throughout France, had gone in just a few years from an outsider in French politics, the loser of the Socialist Party’s presidential primaries, to the man many had come to see as their country’s savior.
As head of the IMF, he lived in Washington for the last three and a half years, one of those very powerful men who float through the city without attracting much notice. He was the leading candidate to become the next president of France, yet Strauss-Kahn and his wife could sit on the patio at Cafe Milano without a single paparazzo or gawker. And while the two of them were expected to unseat one of the most famous couples in the world—Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni—they didn’t get a second glance in the checkout line at the Georgetown Whole Foods.
On the other side of the Atlantic, it was another story. Recent polls predicted that Strauss-Kahn would have knocked off Sarkozy with a 61-to-39-percent win. The country’s future seemed to hinge on the question of whether he would run. Politicians and journalists had taken to beginning their sentences with “If DSK comes back . . . .”
Then, on Saturday afternoon, he was apprehended just minutes before his Air France flight to Paris was scheduled to take off from New York’s Kennedy International Airport. The news that he was accused of attacking a maid at the New York Sofitel, where he was staying, caused what has been described as a “political earthquake” in France, shaking the country’s political landscape.
The IMF seemed to quickly cut ties with Strauss-Kahn, announcing within hours of his arrest that first deputy managing director John Lipsky would take the helm of the fund as acting managing director. In France, Strauss-Kahn’s political allies have spoken out in his defense, and even his rivals have been cautious in their statements, perhaps not wanting to seem too gleeful about the news.
Strauss-Kahn was expected to plead not guilty this morning, and his wife, Anne Sinclair, has said she's certain he's innocent. In France, the widespread disbelief that this man who was seen by many as a champion of their country—and who was so close to becoming president—would do such a thing has given rise to serious talk that he was framed in a plot to discredit his political career, the Socialist party, or the IMF. UPDATE 1:30 PM: Dominique Strauss-Kahn appeared in court this morning and pleaded not guilty to attempted rape and other charges associated with an alleged sexual attack. The judge ordered that he be held without bail. If convicted, he would face up to 25 years in prison. In the meantime, new allegations arose that he had sexually assaulted another woman in 2002.
Strauss-Kahn has long been seen as a political survivor. He has weathered other storms—including an affair with a subordinate in 2008 that nearly cost him his job at the IMF. But while few French political analysts have been ready to say with certainty that his political career is over, the consensus is that it will be very difficult for him to recover.